Artist behind inflatable chapel aims to redefine sacred space
The inflatable chapel opened at the University of Southern California in August.
August 31st, 2011
01:33 PM ET

Artist behind inflatable chapel aims to redefine sacred space

By Rosalina Nieves, CNN

Los Angeles, California (CNN) - At first glance, the blown-up plastic bags affixed to a jungle gym-like frame residing in a University of Southern California courtyard looks like a piece of public art, pure and simple.

But the structure's creator says it’s something more: a sacred place for people of all faiths. He calls it an inflatable chapel.

“I wanted to create a spiritual structure, so I combined every symbolic piece of religion and geometrically combined them to represent them in this chapel,” says Gail Peter Borden, an architect and assistant professor at the USC School of Architecture who designed the structure.

The chapel, which went up earlier this month, incorporates the cross, the Star of David and the yin and yang, among other religious symbols.

Borden, an Episcopalian who says he's not very religious, wants to redefine notions of sacred space. He says his love for architecture, art and religion inspired him to create the chapel, which is made of aluminum electrical conduit and translucent vinyl plastic.

Though it bears little resemblance to a traditional chapel, Borden says it connects visitors to a higher being, whoever that being may be.

“The focal point of this chapel is on the inside,” he says. “You get up in the middle of it, and you look up and see the way the light comes in, the symmetrical shapes that surround the opening. Everyone will have their own experience.”

Reverend Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life at USC, says he learned about Borden when a local paper ran story profiling an earlier inflatable chapel that he crafted. That chapel resembled an igloo.

Burklo thought an inflatable chapel at the university would provoke students’ curiosity. USC commissioned the structure.

“I want them to come here and have some experience of the sacred dimension of life,” Burklo says. “It can be just whimsy, like ‘that is weird’ or ‘that is a funny looking thing.’”

Many students echoed that sentiment in their initial reactions. “If someone hadn’t told me it was a chapel, I would have never guessed it,” said Daniel Doran, a sophomore at USC. “It’s interesting.”

Doran doesn’t affiliate with any religion but said he might return to the chapel again. Still, he was skeptical of experiencing a spiritual connection.

Burklo hopes the chapel offers students like Doran have a chance to step out of their usual way of looking at the world, to experience something spiritual, even if they don’t describe it as a religious experience.

“This is a visual experience that helps them express that and feel that, that side of themselves,” he says.

The chapel will stay in the courtyard of USC’s religious center until December. Borden says he then plans to reconfigure the chapel into a new design and is considering other sites for it.

“It’s not meant to be here or anywhere forever,” Burklo said. “That’s also an expression of spirituality, fluid change.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • California • Church

soundoff (172 Responses)
  1. LouAz

    "every symbolic piece of religion and geometrically combined them to represent them" and wrapped them in a couple of garbage bags . . . how brilliant and perceptive !

    August 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      I would be ashamed to say I created this. However he got a nice plug from CNN. *rolling eyes*

      August 31, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  2. *frank*

    It looks like when my puppy got her stuffed animal caught in the fence. Maybe my puppy was a canine prophet prodigy?

    August 31, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  3. Huh?

    What a nutbag. At least this chapel won't have priests molesting little boys.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Shemp Howard

      of course it will. kids LOVE a bounce house!

      August 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


    “My paintings and drawings deal with the relationships of objects in space over time. Each object maintains an independent form, but the space and motion of the painting stems from the expression of the coupling interaction. Their origin remains personal and intuitive, but seductively suggestive. As shadows of themselves, their form masks their cognitive attachments and associations. They imply their space and place, meaning and association. Abstract and figurative the suggestive psychological intentions and interpretations let the view watch and be watched,”
    Simply put contrast and shades are utilized with the geometrical shapes. Put even simplier, the eyes focus and refocus.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Now lets see some form applied to the longwinded BS

      August 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      What is interesting I suspected creativity might be limited for Gail looking at the above creation. I found some of his work and my hunch turned out to be correct. Not much depth or complexity, rather simple patterns repeated.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  5. Cat MacLeod

    Taking "full of hot air" to a whole new level. Thanks for running the story I needed a laugh.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  6. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    I think Gail Peter Borden needs to stick to making chairs with storage spaces. Those are actually kind of cool.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  7. Burbank

    Looks like a jungle gym with oversized trash bags stuck to it. Ugly, contrived and not art, most definitely not art. What it is, is an insult to people's intelligence. I am a credentialed artist myself and this guy is putting one over on you!

    August 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  8. Gumby

    Chapels should be done away with altogether.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Burbank


      August 31, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  9. *frank*

    The priesthood vehemently opposes this design, not based on any aesthetic issues, but because the design doesnt permit any molesting of children without a passer-by seeing you.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  10. Michael

    Religion relies SO heavily on presentation and people's assumptions....it is pathetic.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  11. Bo

    ==========@Patster5:06================= And what would make you think that God is not angry with this sacreligious ediffice?

    August 31, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Gumby

      Um, because god doesn't exist.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Burbank

      What makes you think you know what God (or Goddess) thinks? Typically arrogant and lacking in humility. – Don't trust people that preach! Time to go get a real job instead of bilking people to support you while you tell them what God thinks.

      August 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Answer

      You were chosen for god's voice? It's obvious you're acting like you are.

      How so important you must feel to ever plug/defend for your faith.

      September 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Plug one for Geeezuss

    Like the old tent revival? Elmer Gantry? Same old same old religion. Before they had computers they fired up witches, then candles, then electrical xmas tree lights, the multimedia shows. Hey, we are going contemporary with our inflatable doll house. Wow. The worship, the dedication, the depth of faith. It flattens me. It deflates me.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Capercorn

    Behold! Postmodernism at it's finest! Look at how much the Disciples of Derrida have done for our world!

    Rubbish, or as Wittgenstein would say, nonsense. [The "chapel" that is. Wittgenstein didn't consider religion to be nonsense].

    August 31, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  14. JiminTX

    Organized religion Is never a good idea. Invisible man who lives in the sky and grants wishes? Virgin birth? Myths, fairy tales and stories to frighten children and child-like minds.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Sean


      August 31, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • LIKE

      the use of fear to controld the masses

      August 31, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  15. John John

    When you let the hot air out, the whole church collapses. Sounds like a normal church to me. When is this silly belief in old world mythology going to get washed out of the modern world? Uneducated people need to fill in the gaps that their lack of science education gives them, so they fill it with magic and a super-magic giant in the sky that knows and does all.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  16. Patster

    Ah yes, chapels in old gas stations, mega churches with a full entertainment program, stages, powerpoint slides, contemporary bling bling, drive thru wedding chapels and churches. And now inflatable chapels? If I were god, I'd be pretty p.o.ed if my worshippers called that "whorship". Tasteless junk.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  17. John Blackadder

    Was the chapel filled with hot air?

    August 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Sean

      When are they not?

      August 31, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Bo

    ========== I wouldn't give this artist too high of a grade. He coppied an exisiting church and Saks 5th Ave Thanksgiving parade with all it's ballons. If he's not particularly religious then he must have seen some profit in it.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  19. John _Atlanta GA

    All chaples are a bad idea.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  20. Reality

    Another house of "worthless worship"!!!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.